A game many expected to feature old-fashioned, smash-mouth football lived up to the billing as the Ravens and Tennessee Titans traded blows before, during and after the snap all day long.
Although the Ravens could not land the knockout punch in a 13-10 loss, their bruising running attack landed several body shots on Tennessee's highly-touted defense.
Led by Willis McGahee and his 64 yards on 22 carries, the Ravens piled up 132 rushing yards against a Tennessee defense that had been allowing just under 87 yards a game on the ground. Le'Ron McClain poured on 51 yards of his own on just 11 carries (4.6-yard average), adding a touchdown in the third quarter that put the Ravens up 10-3.
"We did a great job all week," McClain said after the game. "The Titans have a great defense, and we proved that we could play with them. We didn't execute quite the way we wanted to on a few things, but we just have to deal with them and get ready for Indianapolis next week."
McGahee had 30 yards on seven carries by the end of the first quarter as the Ravens began to poke holes in the Titans' defense. Sharing the load with McClain, McGahee did accomplish one goal by avoiding any serious injury for the first time this season.
"I'm not trying to ease my way through a game," McGahee explained. "I want to win. But that was one of my goals, to finish a game and be out there with my teammates. We just weren't able to finish on that last drive."
The second half opened with an impressive drive for the Ravens that saw them drive 71 yards for a touchdown. After a key 22-yard third-down conversion from Joe Flacco to Demetrius Williams, the ground game took over.
McClain bullied his way to 13 yards rushing on the drive, adding eight on a short pass from Flacco. After fullback Lorenzo Neal picked up a first down that gave the Ravens first-and-goal at the one yard line, McClain charged into the end zone with the go-ahead score.
"It was a straight up power play," McClain said of the touchdown run. "I just went straight up through the hole. I always say it takes at least two to get me down. One guy isn't enough, so, touchdown."
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the Ravens came into the game with the goal of stuffing the ball down the Titans' throats. Holding the ball for nearly nine minutes longer than Tennessee, the Ravens were able to do that.
"We said we were going to run at them, and we did," McClain stated. "We wish the game could've come our way at the end, but it gives us something to build on."
Baltimore was able to accomplish this punishing attack thanks to an offensive line which, despite losing starting right guard Adam Terry late in the second quarter, was able to push back a talented defensive front for the Titans.
"The offensive line played solid," head coach John Harbaugh said. "We won some one-on-one battles in there with some very good players. We were knocking them around in there pretty good."
The Ravens and their fans are not satisfied with a moral victory, but at this early stage of the season, the ability to churn out yardage in the running game and control the time of possession battle is nothing but encouraging for the 2-2 Ravens.
"There are a lot of plusses in this football game," Harbaugh asserted. "The season is young. Our team is not about to get down and say that we're finished. We've got a long way to go including a tough game next week and that's the game we're getting ready for. We'll put this one behind us fast. We're going to learn from it."
Coming into the season, the Ravens knew they had a proven NFL star in McGahee. Through four games, the play of McClain has shown that he, too, is someone the team can trust with the ball in his hands.
"It's a chess game back and forth," Harbaugh said. "We'd like to have Le'Ron with the ball in his hands, but we'd like Willis McGahee with the ball in his hands too. We're just doing the things we think we can do against those defenses."
Twice in less than seven days, the Ravens battled through intense, physical games that left walking wounded on both sides of the ball. While they were unable to pull out a victory, the consistency of their rushing attack against some of the best defenses in the league is no doubt a source of pride and an encouraging sign for the future.
Now, the entire team needs to take the next step and close out a victory.
Being able to rely on a punishing running game will help make that possible.